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FACTS AND FIGURES

▶ The Blackbird crossed the United States at a record speed of 2,124 m.p.h. in 1990.

▶ Blackbird missions over North Vietnam were the fastest ever flown in combat.

▶ The pressure suits worn by the crew are identical to those used by astronauts on space shuttle missions.

▶ One version of this spyplane carried the D-21 reconnaissance drone, launched in flight at supersonic speeds.

▶ At high speed and altitude, friction causes the metal skin of the SR-71 to heat up to 400пїЅ Fahrenheit.

▶ Of 32 SR-71 s built, three are flying today.

CUTTING EDGE

F-117 Nighthawk

▶ "Stealth" fighter

▶ Invisible to radar

▶ Deadly accurate attacker

The Lockheed F-117A "Stealth" fighter is one of the most sophisticated warplanes ever built. Almost invisible to radar, the F-117 has revolutionized air warfare. It was operated at first under conditions of total secrecy, but in 1991 the U.S. Air Force deployed it openly to Saudi Arabia for service in the Gulf War. Ranging the night skies over Baghdad with impunity, it struck the most heavily defended Iraqi targets with stunning effect.

The intense secrecy surrounding Stealth meant that it was not until the late 1980s that the F-117's true shape was revealed. And that angled, faceted shape was like no other aircraft.

The invisible bomber

The sky over a modern battlefield is a dangerous place. Radar-guided missiles and guns endanger any aircraft flying more than a few inches above the ground. Flying fast and low makes survival more likely, but at the same time makes hitting the target a matter of split-second timing.

In an attempt to counteract the seemingly impossible advantage of the defenders, Lockheed's shadowy "Skunk Works"- the Advanced Development Project Office - was contracted by the U.S. Department of Defense in the late 1970s to produce a low- observable strike fighter. Operational by 1983, the F-l I7A Stealth fighter is perhaps the most unusual aircraft ever flown.

The F-117's unusual shape and the advanced material from which it is manufactured make the Stealth fighter all but invisible to radar. By flying at night, the black jet is also invisible to the eye.

Because it can't be detected, the F-l 17 can take its time in attack. This makes for remarkably accurate weapons delivery, as was shown to great effect during the Gulf War.

The unique arrow shape of the F-117 is naturally unstable. Stability is maintained by computerized fly-by-wire controls.

SPECIFICATIONS F-117A Nighthawk

Type: Single-seat low-observable strike fighter.

Powerplant: Two non-afterburning General Electric F404-GE-F1D2 engines, each delivering 10,800 lb.- thrust.

Maximum speed: Mach 1 (estimated).

Combat radius: 750 mi. unrefueled, with 5,000 lb. weapon load.

Service ceiling: Not revealed.

Weapons: Up to 5,500 lb. carried internally. Principle weapons are BLU-109 low-level or GBU10/GBU 27 medium-level laser-guided bombs. Provision for two AIM-9L air-to-air missiles.

Weights: Empty 30,000 lb.; loaded 52,500 lb.

Dimensions:

Span 43 ft. 4 in.

Length 65 ft. 11 in.

Height 12 ft. 5 in.

Wing area (estimated) 913 sq.ft.

F-117A Nighthawk

The F-117A is operated by the 49th Fighter Wing (formerly the 37th FW) based at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

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